This is a movie I made about the WWII experiences of my grandfather, Edwin Rinkenberger, and his B-17 crewmates. It was made primarily using footage captured from the computer game "IL-2/Pacific Fighters".
He and his crewmates were original members of the 385th Bomb Group, joining it shortly after it's formation in Spokane, Wa. The group transferred to England in July of 1943. The crew was part of the 550th Bomb Squadron and was carried on the group books as it's 22nd crew or the "Fryer" crew after the pilot, Lyle Fryer. Lyle gave their first B-17 it's name "Mary Ellen" after his girlfriend and had the name painted in large black and white script on the nose.
The Fryer crew's flight across the Atlantic was unusual. Groups normally crossed as a unit as a safety measure. Delayed because of engine problems, they were supposed to tag along with a B-24 group crossing the next day, July 3rd. Since they were not part of the group, they were the last to take off. On the way, they encountered some heavy thunderstorms and decided to fly above the weather, alone. Since their B-17 could fly higher than the B-24s, they managed to catch a strong tailwind from the jet stream (they didn't realize what it was until later). Arriving in England, they actually were the first to land, which earned them a rebuke from the B-24 group commander for "cutting" in front of his planes!
To the crew's displeasure, the original "Mary Ellen" was taken from them almost immediately after arriving for depot modifications such as adding nose guns and cheek windows. Their next aircraft, predictably named "Mary Ellen II", was their main mount for the rest of their short combat career. Due to shortages of both crews and planes, they would fly in several other planes as well, like the "Hesitatin' Hussy" and "Roundtrip Jack". The "Mary Ellen II" was lost on August 16, 1943 while being flown by the Schley crew, so they were assigned a new aircraft, the "Mary Ellen III".
They only got the opportunity to fly it on one mission, though, the October 18th mission to Duren. They were originally supposed to stand down for a few days, but losses the previous week from the infamous "Second Schweinfurt" raid on Oct 14th (which the crew flew on in "Roundtrip Jack") dictated them being added to the follow-up Duren mission two days later. Since "Mary Ellen III" was already assigned to another crew because it was equipped with the "Gee" navigation aid, they were forced to borrow "Shack Bunny" from the 551st squadron.
The crew was awakened late and missed breakfast to make the mission briefing. Since they were a "fill-in" crew, they drew what was left in aircraft. The aircraft to which they were assigned was not in good mechanical shape. Lyle Fryer called the crew together and asked them if they wanted to go or abort. It was actually the pilot's decision and responsibility, but Fryer wanted the crew to have a say. They decided to go. The crew and the "Shack Bunny" were behind the rest of the group and were struggling to catch up, but an under performing engine prevented them joining the formation. Over France, another engine was hit by flak, caught fire, and they bailed out over Holland.
Taken prisoner by the Germans, the crew was separated; officers wound up going to Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany. There they remained for the rest of the war fighting boredom and at times near starvation. The camp housed an ever-growing population of British and American airmen and by all accounts was fairly well-treated by the Luftwaffe commandant, at least compared to some other camps. One of the diversions the prisoners used to keep themselves busy and annoy the Germans was digging tunnels. Since my grandfather was fairly short, he often drew duty as a tunnel-digger. These tunnels were not like the ones seen on TV shows like "Hogan's Heroes", but tiny, cramped and dangerous. The Germans usually found them quickly but let the prisoners dig for a while before collapsing them and throwing the diggers in the cooler.
As the war progressed, the prisoners eagerly anticipated the arrival of Russian forces advancing from the east, keeping up to date on the ground war by means of a radio hidden in a wall in the British compound. Suddenly, on May 1st, the Germans notified the senior POW, Col. 'Hub' Zemke, that they would be leaving the next morning to escape the Russians. They actually snuck away during the night. The now ex-POWs stayed in the compound for the most part since there was considerable danger from scattered German and Russian forces in the area, not to mention civilians that held no love for the Allied "Terrorflieger". Several groups and individuals struck out to reach Allied lines to the west anyhow. One of the Fryer crew, Lt. John Durakov, spoke some Russian so was often called in to help work out arrangements with the local Russian commander.
Back in England, there was some concern as to how the Russians would treat the ex-POWs. The Russians proposed to evacuate them through the port of Odessa on the Black Sea, a trip of several hundred miles. At this point in the war, most American and British leaders were becoming very distrustful of the Russian's motives and feared (erroneously) that Allied POWs would be held hostage in order to force territorial concessions on the western powers. In the end the Eighth Air Force was allowed to mount evacuation flights to retrieve the airmen in Stalag Luft I. This became known as "Operation Revival" and was put into action May 13th-16th, 1945. B-17s were stripped of armament and had crude benches and floors put in the bomb bays. Flying with minimal crew, each plane was thus able to carry about 30 POWs. Flying into an airfield very close to the Stalag, the planes flew over 8,000 allied aircrew back to Britain and camps in France.
Sites to visit for more information:
385th BG page - http://welcome.to/385BombGroup
Friends of the 385th BG (a museum in Luxembourg) - http://www.385bg.com
Stalag Luft I Online - http://www.merkki.com
Contact InformationJim Rinkenberger Jr.
January 25, 2012 Subject:
My Grandpa Durakov
Thank you for this. I never met him but was told stories as a kid about him. Thank you for giving me the chance to see this!
August 14, 2010 Subject:
I stumbled onto crew 22 video while researching
my uncle John Durakov. Last had contact with him
50 years ago. Only knowing that he had been a POW
finding this information about him and crew was
AMAZING. Thank you Jim Rinkenberger for your research.
April 29, 2007 Subject:
Really enjoyed the results of your effort! I can see why it has been downloaded so many times! For personal reasons, it is wonderful that you have memorialized this crew and their experience!